You as an EI professional bring important expertise to uncovering priorities and strategies. This includes asking questions and following up in ways to reveal the family’s thinking, free of professional leading or interpretation.

Remind the Family at the Beginning of the Conversation:

When you arrive, you can remind the family…

We will talk about the ways I saw you interact and the materials that you used that help your child develop. In other words, your strategies. I’m going to start with one strategy and ask you why you’re using the strategy. I’m not being critical or think the strategy isn’t good. I’m asking to truly know you’re thinking. The point is to understand your thinking. That way, we can honor those strategies that are already working well, tweak any strategies that you might want to change up and, as needed, identify new strategies. To do that, I need to understand your reasons for what you do and how well you think it’s working. Also, if I share what I think is a strategy and there’s no real reason behind it, that’s fine too. Just let me know and we can move to another strategy.

Questions to Uncover the Family’s Thinking

We at The Envelope have found that families appreciate hearing from professionals the particular ways (i.e., strategies) they help their child learn, and taking the time to think about why they did what they did. Your role in uncovering that thinking is to ask questions and use other active listening strategies so the family can really think about it.

Don’t worry if a family initially says they don’t know! Frequently, families start talking through their thinking and arrive at really poignant musings. Asking follow up questions can help too.

We (family and professional) are looking to uncover the family’s why, how, and how well for each strategy discussed. You can use the following to facilitate this uncovering:

  1. Describe what the family did that demonstrates a strategy. Share a couple of examples of the same strategy. There’s no need to name the strategy with the professional term as that might influence the family’s thinking.
  1. To uncover why the family chose to use the specific strategy, you can ask…
    • Why did you choose to [example(s)]?
    • What are you hoping [child] will learn by [example(s)]?PROMPT: Why is that important for your child to learn or develop?”
  1. To uncover how the family came up with the specific strategy, you can ask…
    • How did you figure out/decide to [example(s)]?
    • What do you think made you think about [example(s)]? 
  1. To uncover how well the FAMILY THINKS the strategy is working, you can ask…
    • How do you feel about how well [example(s)] is helping [child]? You could include the family’s responses from #3 as long as you do not summarize or interpret what the family said and just use the family’s actual words.
    • What feels “good” or “right” about [example(s)]? What feels uncomfortable or you’re unsure of?
    • If the family says “effective” or “ineffective,” you can probe for more of their thinking with, what is it about [example(s)] that is [in]effective?
    • Sometimes, a family may share a strategy is effective because the child is successful with the strategy. For example, a family may say that they respond to the child’s gestures so the child gets what they want (the family’s why). The family may then say the strategy is effective because they know what the child wants and the family gives it to the child. Depending on the conversation, it may be helpful to probe to see if the family feels mastery has been achieved and it’s time for a challenge. At these times, you might ask, How ready do you think [child] is for a next step?


  • Talk about one strategy at a time. Families may be using different strategies for different purposes. And even if for the same reason, the way the family figured each strategy out or their perceived effectiveness of each strategy could be different. That said,
    • You can group examples of the same strategy to discuss together.
    • You can decide which strategy to discuss next based on the family’s responses to previous strategies. The point is to avoid generalities.
  • You don’t have to discuss every strategy observed. However, make sure you discuss a variety of strategies so that all the family’s priorities are uncovered.
  • During this conversation, the family is doing most of the talking.
  • This isn’t an interview. It’s a conversation. Keep it casual and free flowing while avoiding sharing your thoughts on the strategies discussed. You can use paraphrasing, reflection, clarification, and other active listening approaches to make this happen.

Affirmation of family competence comes from identifying family strategies/strengths. State the strategy and be curious while and avoiding extrinsic reinforcement (e.g., “I like how you…” or “It was really great that you…”).

  • Intervention IS still occurring during this conversation, because you can…
    • Further affirm competence by paraphrasing what the family said about a particular strategy. For example, after the family shares their reason for sitting further away from their child, “So you’re saying, by sitting a little further away, you’re giving him a reason to move.” Make sure you avoid sharing your opinion of whether or not you agree with the family.
    • Clarify strategies to (1) assure you are obtaining the family’s true perspectives and (2) provide potentially new information. For example, if you ask about the strategy of asking the child “what color is this?” and the family tries it out with the child and shows the child two choices and asks for blue, you might say, “Giving two choices of ‘which one is blue’ is a different strategy than ‘what color is this.’ It’s easier to pick the blue one out of two choices than to remember name “blue.” How effective do you think asking “what color is this” might be for your child?”
  • During this conversation you are learning to look through the family’s eyes without biasing with your interpretations.